Waht social projects can learn from inclusion

Social Projects often fail. One reason can be that they were builded on wrong assumptions about the needs of the target group. In this article I want to show what responsible persons can learn from inclusion for their projects.

Some time ago a couple of books were convulsing the development discussion. They question if the structure and assumptions of development policy were totally wrong. Some of the Authors were Paul Collier, Dambisa Moyo or Esther Duflo and Abhijit Banerjee. The authors of „Poor Economics“ analysed the behaviour of poor people in developing countries and find out that they did not behave like most development models said. That was one of the main reasons why many projects were not successful in long sight.

One of the main reasons why many projects in many social areas fail is the weak involvement of the target group, it doesn’t matter if they are poor, disabled or homeless. If you start a web project for example often the first question is not „What does our target group wants?“ but „What do we want?“ The result is a website which is oriented to the needs and requirements of the makers and not the users.

The German government failed to involve the disability organizations in the process of the UN Convention on the rights of people with disabilities. The government defy already in the translation process against the manner of the UN Convention.

Lessons learned

There are two lessons which we learned from inclusion.

  1. The physical presence of disabled people already changes the whole thinking and behaviour of the other people. As undisabled you can talk very much about blindness or deafness without understanding the real influence of these disabilities on the person.
  2. The second lesson is that the participation of people with disabilities is necessary to improve the quality of projects. To be honest, when a lot of healthy managers and technicians are planning an accessible building, you get a 70s buildings: The elevator is too small, the ramp is behind the building next to the rubbish container, the sound design is so bad, that people with hearing impairness can not understand anything. Such failures you find not so often today, but that is because there are a lot of standards. And nevertheless you find many failures for example the orientation trails for blind people are to near to the train or similar.

Why involve people?

We do not need a pro forma participation of people with disabilities. Most experts won’t accept this because they do not want to be a fig leaf or want to see their name connected to a poor project.

The reason is to improve the quality of the project and that will not work without the basic involvement of the target group.

On the other hand that means that we have a high demand to experts in every target group. An expert in our definition is a person which can anticipate the demands of the whole group. Blindness itself doesn’t make you to an expert of the demands of other blind people. Most people only anticipate their own demands. That’s okay but that doesn’t qualify you for such a responsible position.

That means that the first difficult task is to find an expert who is willing to work in your project. Our luck is that almost every social group is organized in an association or an interest group so that it is in most cases easy to find a first partner. I’m convinced that the involvement of such a person will increase the quality of your project.

Don’t get me wrong: The involvement of members of the target group is not a guarantee for project success. But it is one of the main preconditions.

The typical counter-arguments are that it is difficult to find such a person and that the participation can increase the cost of the project.

But if it is difficult for you to organize rooms for wheel chair users or to pay a sign interpreter you should think again if you are the right person to organize a project for wheel chair users or def persons.

The second argument – that you do not find the passenger experts – I already answered. It is right that it is difficult to find people who are willing to participate. But you have to put yourself in the position of the expert too. I for example get a lot of questions of people, who didn’t thought about their idea long enough. Often after a vie mails the conversions stops. For the expert it can be very frustrating when you do not know if the project was stopped paused or successful. We have a lot of things to do and are not willing to spend our time with nonsense projects. Please think about your idea enough before you start to contact us.

Look on abilities

An important principle is to first look on the abilities, not on disabilities. The first thing you should do is to ask, what can this person do for us? In reality most persons ask, what can this blind/deaf/stupid person can do not? Because of the low contact to disabled persons their knowledge on the abilities and disabilities is not very high.

That is not only the failure of the people. The first thing which words like „blind“ or „deaf“ implies is, that this people cannot hear or see quite good. How should we as hearing and seeing know what a blind/deaf person can do?

Lessons for disabled people

Inclusion is often misinterpreted by disabled people. They understand that society has to adapt to their needs. This will of course never happen. May be that many barriers will be society for everyone will not come in the next decades.

In fact inclusion will force people with disabilities to take responsibility for the society too. Their task will first of all be to take part in inclusive activities or to tell teachers, sellers and other persons how they can implement inclusion. Our wish should be to transform the society to a place where everyone can live in his own manner without as long as he or she does not intervene in the rights of other people.